Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education
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In a historic tiebreaker, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education last Tuesday. After a contentious battle in the United States Senate, the vote was tied at 50-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to confirm DeVos on February 7th. This is the first time that a Vice President has had to break a tie for a confirmation hearing. DeVos’ confirmation was one of the most polarizing issues in the 115th Senate, as Senate Democrats debated throughout the night, staging a 24 hour filibuster on the vote according to CNN.
Betsy DeVos is a 59 year old Michigan philanthropist who was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, as well as her work with the Michigan Education system reported NPR. DeVos has taken a long time stance toward the privatization of schools and the implementation of state funded scholarships for private schools (also known as the voucher system). She has also served on two national education charities including Children First America and the American Education Reform Council, both of which seek to expand school choice and voucher system (according to her website, BetsyDeVos.com.)
Many Democrats have spoken out against DeVos primarily due to the fact that DeVos has no personal or professional experience in public education. This was revealed during DeVos’ viral confirmation hearing videos, where she stated that she has never worked in or attended a public school, nor has she sent her children there, as stated in the New York Times. In addition, many of DeVos’s critics say that she does not seem to understand many elements of key education laws. Moreover, her stances on Free-Market has caused an uproar from teacher’s unions and other education activists according to CNN.
While traditionally, most Secretaries of Education try to endorse a national standard, DeVos puts an emphasis on the states as she has said that “It is necessary and critical for states to have flexibility to determine how to identify and improve schools". In addition, it is widely speculated that DeVos will endorse a greater expanse of school choice, which favors private, religious, and for-profit schools.
DeVos has also expressed an interest in increasing the number of charter schools within the United States. Expressing many of the fears on the Democrat’s side, Senator Chris Murphy (CT) told CNN, “You put those two things together, lack of compassion for what's happened to places like Sandy Hook and an inability to just understand the basic law around vulnerable students and it was clear at the end of that hearing that this was someone who shouldn't be the secretary of education."
DeVos was finally confirmed with a total vote count of 51-50, with many of the senators sticking behind party lines. However, two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Susan Collins (ME) voted “no” for DeVos according to the New York Times. Murkowski said she chose to vote against DeVos in response to the thousands of constituent messages she received to reject the nomination while Collins provided no comment.